Cancer care is one of the most technical and scientific of all medical disciplines. Oncologists must keep abreast of a dizzying array of novel treatment options coming out of the laboratory while delivering empathetic care for the physical and emotional needs of their patients with cancer. According to a recent book by Steven Eisenberg, DO, Love Is the Strongest Medicine: Notes From a Cancer Doctor on Connection, Creativity, and Compassion, although cancer is the enemy oncologists fight in the clinic, there is also the presence of denial, anger, and fear that destabilize emotions and interfere with treatment.
To counter that obstacle, Dr. Eisenberg helps his patients with cancer overcome negative emotions by cultivating acceptance, love, and self-compassion in a thoroughly personal way. Dr. Eisenberg is a medical oncologist and the co-founder of cCARE, California’s largest private oncology practice in California.
A Good Thing in a Small Package
Love Is The Strongest Medicine is organized into 20 concise chapters. It is a small book, weighing in at approximately 200 pages. It is a book largely about opening the door to hope for patients with cancer who are struggling with the daily ups and downs that coincide with their diagnosis and the long uphill battle with a disease that very well might end their lives. The author approaches this task by using engaging narratives of his patients as they candidly share their deeply personal stories.
In addition, Dr. Eisenberg also weaves his own maturation as an oncologist into the book, giving readers a keen perspective of the unique doctor-patient relationship that exists in oncology. And, because he has spent the past 30 years mastering the art and science of compassionate cancer care, the book’s mission is fully realized. Given that the author’s underlying theme is to open the door of hope for his patients, liberating them from the self-imposed emotional confinement they may feel due to their disease, publication of this book as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic gives the book special meaning.
In chapter 1, the reader is treated to a slice of the author’s early life and a transformative experience. He was 13 years old and riding his bicycle with a friend on the way to play tennis when he swooped into an intersection and had a head-on collision with a station wagon moving at considerable speed. Dr. Eisenberg was launched into the windshield, which shattered, and flung back onto the pavement. His injuries were severe: shattered tibia, lacerated face, two fingers nearly severed, his left ear dangling from threads of tissue, broken collarbone and ribs; but the most serious was traumatic brain injury. After surgery to relieve the swelling in his skull and multiple facial surgeries, the author recalled the shock of seeing himself in a mirror, as he felt then like Frankenstein’s monster.
“Oncology is a field devoted to the art and science of creating second chances.”— Steven Eisenberg, DO
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As his body slowly healed, Dr. Eisenberg eventually chose medical school—in part from his own experience—and oncology as a specialty, because “it is a field devoted to the art and science of creating second chances.”
“That first moment of clarity that my body was not the same and would likely never be is one I often go back to, a touchtone in my connection with my oncology patients today. So often having to accept the outward signs of illness—scars, hair loss, and other changes that physically mark the fight against cancer—is one of the struggles of being in treatment,” writes the author.
Treating the Whole Person
Dr. Eisenberg explains why he chose to pursue a DO degree instead of the more traditional MD path. “The more traditional route is becoming an MD. I chose the less-traveled road and pursued a DO. Both are equally rigorous, but an MD focuses first on the diagnosis and treatment of ailments. The DO is a little more holistic, presuming that the body naturally trends toward being healthy and pushing the physician to focus on the whole patient rather than any specific condition. As a yoga-doing, arts-loving, self-help junkie in my early 20s, I chose the DO route.” Given the whole-person treatment philosophy that emerged in oncology, Dr. Eisenberg’s choice made perfect sense.
Learning From His Patients
Over the first several chapters, readers will follow the author’s journey in medicine as he tries to figure out how to interact and somehow comfort patients overwhelmed by the emotional toll of illness and treatment. Like many young physicians in the oncology community, the author learns from his patients with cancer, one by one, as they struggle against disease. As his career begins to take shape, he weaves his own sense of humanity, which includes music, laughter, dancing, and art into his treatment model. At times, this approach might seem a bit wacky to some of the old guard in the oncology community, but his patients adore him, and it becomes obvious that love, spooned out in generous doses, helps create better outcomes for his patients with cancer.
Title:Love Is the Strongest Medicine: Notes From a Cancer Doctor on Connection, Creativity, and Compassion
Author: Steven Eisenberg, DO
Publisher: Hay House, Inc
Publication Date: May 2021
Price: $19.99, hardcover, 208 pages
Intimate stories about the doctor-patient relationships in the unique setting of oncology are always interesting. If there’s a complaint about Love Is the Strongest Medicine, it’s that some of the patient-centered stories won’t feel fresh to those who read books about cancer. Those looking for in-depth discussion of oncologic therapies won’t find them here in this lay-friendly book. These gripes are small, as this is a charming book written by a charming and dedicated oncologist. We need more physicians like Dr. Eisenberg. This book is recommended for readers of The ASCO Post and especially for patients with cancer.